22 SES 05 A, Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Higher Education
Political, social and cultural forces shape not only higher education systems, but also the processes of designing curricula (Barnett & Coate 2005). In Europe, owing to the Bologna process, attention has been increasingly paid to the competences students are expected to learn during their undergraduate studies. This is part of the aim of making national qualifications more readable across Europe and to promote lifelong learning as well to take into account the skills and competences needed in the world of work (The European Higher Education, 2012). In the United States there have also been extensive curricular reforms in higher education in response to reports about the lack of adequate preparation of university graduates for successful transition as productive members of society (AAC, 1985). In the context of decreasing unemployment rates for new college graduates in recent years, there is a lingering concern the majority of undergraduate students do not demonstrate significant improvement in a range of skills during their years in college (Arum & Roksa, 2011; Carnevale & Cheah, 2013).
Hence, over the past decade, a strong emphasis has been put on assessing and studying learning outcomes of higher education graduates in many countries. However, little is known in regard to students’ actual learning, and how learning outcomes are addressed within curriculum frameworks. It seems ‘learning outcomes’ have become a catchword without thorough understanding of its essence.
Learning outcomes can be simply defined as what a learner knows or can do as a result of learning (Otter, 1992). However, how to comprehend learning outcomes in higher education is highly debated. For instance, a primary question concerns whether generic or transferable skills might be distinct in comparison to subject-specific skills (e.g. Barrie, 2006; de la Harbe et al., 2000). Based on a literature review, Allan (1996) suggested learning outcomes include subject-specific, transferable, and generic academic outcomes. Subject-specificoutcomes refer to content which might be taught in a given context. These outcomes embrace more than just course objectives; in subject-specific outcomes students are expected to have both knowledge of content as well as an ability to apply it to different settings. In turn, personally transferable outcomes include an ability to act independently, work with others, use information technology, communicate effectively, and to organize information. Personal outcomes are not wholly predictable, as they are dependent to the extent which students engage in learning experiences. Generic academic outcomes include making use of information, thinking critically, analyzing, and synthesizing ideas and information. Personal and academic outcomes are transferable to various contexts; and, in this respect, they differ from subject-specific outcomes. Allan’s (1996) listing is just one of the many categorizations of learning outcomes. Several others have also been developed such as those by Bennet et al. (1999); Barrie (2006); Jones (2009); and Pitman & Broomhall (2009).
With this frame of reference, the main aim of the study is to compare how learning outcomes have been taken into account within undergraduate programs’ curricular frameworks in Finland and the United States. This multiple-case study responds to the following question: how, if at all, are learning outcomes defined in undergraduate study programs. The goal is to better understand how learning outcomes are interpreted in two different higher education systems.
Allan, J. 1996. Learning outcomes in higher education. Studies in Higher Education 21(1), 93-108. Arum, R. & Roksa, J. 2011. Academically adrift. Limited learning on college campuses. Chigaco: University of Chicago Press. Barnett, R. & Coate, K. 2005. Engaging the curriculum in higher education, Berkshire, GBR: McGraw-Hill Education. Barrie, S. C. 2006. Understanding what we mean by the generic attributes of graduates. Higher education 51, 215–241. Becher, T. 1989. Academic tribes and territories. Intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines. Milton Keynes: The Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press. Bennett, N., Dunne, E., & Carré, C. 1999. Patterns of core and generic skill provision in higher education. Higher Education 37, 71–93. Boyatzis, R.E. 1998. Transforming qualitative information: thematic analysis and code development. London: Sage. Braun, V. & Clarke, V. 2006. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology (3, 77-101. Carnevale, A.P., & Cheah, B. 2013. Hard times: College majors, unemployment and earnings. Washington, DC: Center on Education and the Workforce. de la Harpe, B., Radloff, A., Wyber, J. 2000. Quality and generic (professional) skills. Quality in Higher Education 6 (3), 231–243. Jones, A. 2009. Generic attributes as espoused theory: the importance of context. Higher Education 58, 175–191. Otter, S.1992. Learning outcomes in higher education. London: UDACE. Pitman, T. & Broomhall, S. 2009. Australian universities, generic skills and lifelong learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education 28, 439–453. Stake, R. 2006. Multiple case study analysis. New York: Guilford Press. The European Higher Education Area in 2012: Bologna Process implementation report. Stocktaking report. European Commission. Available online http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice
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